More than 30% of American children do not live with both parents and are instead in some form of co-parenting arrangement. Parental divorce can have a substantial negative impact on children that disrupts their maturation, mental health, education, and other important issues. Family lawyers also warn that the difficulties that children face differ based on their age and that adolescent children may be the hardest to co-parent as they’re already pulling away.
Co-parenting is a necessary lifestyle for most families with divorced parents. There are three core types of co-parenting:
Parallel parenting has been the traditional approach and is used in about 50% of all divorces involving children according to divorce lawyers, but this is beginning to change. In many cases, one parent has physical custody and is responsible for the children most of the time, and the other parent has visitation rights. A parallel approach allows for there to be little to no communication or conflict, but on the downside, it may mean that the children are subject to inconsistencies in how they are parented.
Conflicted parenting occurs in about 25% of divorces but is on the decline likely because of greater awareness concerning how divorce negatively affects children. Divorce attorneys and mental health professionals who specialize in divorce agree that this form of co-parenting is the most harmful for children.
Cooperative co-parenting also occurs in about 25% of divorces, but that number is on the rise and likely for the same reason mentioned above. Even in a classic scenario where one parent has custody and the other visitation, cooperative co-parenting is possible and effective. All that matters is that both parents are on the same page. However, a greater emphasis on protecting children has given rise to alternative shared custody arrangements, such as birdnesting, which is where the divorced couple preserves the family home and take turns being there for the children.
Children can complicate the end of their parents’ marriage. In a divorce involving childless couples or those who have children who have already moved out to live their own lives, the ex-spouses get to move forward and focus on regaining their individuality. When co-parenting, there is no clean break from each other because the ex-spouses have an ongoing parental relationship that will exist for years. In order to find a co-parenting arrangement that works for your family, it’s important to appreciate the challenges that you and your ex-spouse will face.
Divorcing with children is a contradiction. You have to move on from the marital relationship while maintaining and strengthening the parental relationship. Divorce lawyers often recommend co-parenting counseling in order to achieve emotional acceptance about what ended the marriage and shift focus to the positive aspects of co-parenting and doing what is in the best interests of the kids.
Another issue co-parents face is that with the increased freedom that comes with being divorced, differences between you and your ex-spouse will become more pronounced. You will have to learn how to communicate in a new way.
All children no matter their age can experience grief and other emotions when it comes to their parents’ divorce, but it’s necessary to realize that how these feelings manifest may be different depending on the age. Children up to about age 8 are still very much attached to their parents and are likely to tighten that attachment in order to avoid additional family loss. The adolescent—typically between ages 9 and 13—is more independent-minded. They are already in the process of detaching themselves from their parents and are likely to do it even more for a number of reasons.
One of those reasons is the disillusionment that occurs among adolescent children of divorce. Adolescents often see divorce as a broken promise. Marriage can end. The family can be divided. Love isn’t everlasting, and parents can put their happiness ahead of that of their children. Family law attorneys warn that the more independent the child, the more intense the emotional reaction. It is a liberation of sorts in which the parental leadership failed, and so the child becomes more reliant on themselves–and resistant to their parents’ rules.
Family lawyers advise parents to watch for accelerated maturation and to note that it can occur in children even as old as their early 20s. Early adolescents often rebel against the perception that they’re still young. In mid-adolescents, they often avoid time with their parents to bond more with their friends. In late adolescence, accelerated risk-taking behavior is common, and in the trial independence phase, it is common for children of divorce to set out on their own prematurely.
Shared custody of an adolescent is even more challenging than traditional parenting of a child that age. Divorce attorneys encourage divorced parents to formalize a co-parenting agreement. The value of such an agreement is not just that it exists but that it forces you to consider the possibilities that you may face and to negotiate how you will respond. It can also play an important role for each ex-spouse in achieving that healthy parenting relationship. Each person wants the other to be reliable, responsible, flexible, and so forth.
Therapists who specialize in parenting issues are more than just experts in parental relationships. They have substantial experience with the behaviors that your adolescent child may exhibit. There are times as a parent of an adolescent child when you may feel at a loss, and your counselor can not only provide you with techniques and resources but can do so within the context of working together as a team.
When you are working as a team, many of the strategies that the experts recommend are the same as in a traditional parenting arrangement, and you should thus be mindful that your healthy collaboration will have a positive effect on your child. Parenting experts recommend having clear and firm boundaries for homework, curfew, friends, phone usage and other similar matters. Discipline should be clear and consistent as well, and parents need to be a united front. Encouragement and bonding are also key, and if you see a problem potentially spiraling, don’t hesitate to opt for professional intervention.
If you are going through a divorce and are intending to co-parent, a family law attorney with experience in this sensitive area can be a great resource for you. Lawrence Law is a New Jersey law firm that has handled scores of these types of cases. We can answer your questions, explore your options with you and help you be ready for the challenges to come. You can schedule an initial consultation at either our Red Bank or Watchung office by calling us at 908-645-1000 or by using the contact form on our website.